- Learning from Networked Public Space
Geomedia, by Scott McQuire, explores the relationship between media and cities, specifically what happens to the theory and practice of urban public space as mobile, embedded media devices, urban screens, and extended digital networks become more prevalent. The text contains a historically and theoretically rich account of the entanglement of media and city space, but McQuire stresses his is a less “media-centric” mode of analysis. In practice, this means he adopts an interdisciplinary approach to his work, taking into account debates from other fields, such as cultural studies, urban geography, and software studies. Certainly, his empirical research with artists using large screens for public events, for example, suggests that the book will have appeal across a range of disciplinary boundaries. Readers familiar with McQuire’s previous work will be aware of his book The Media City (2008) that also pursued a nonrepresentational approach, emphasizing the active role that contemporary media play in the production of spaces, practices, and experiences within the city. In many ways Geomedia should be seen as an update and continuation of that volume, but a key difference here is the singular emphasis on urban public space and the focus on learning from artistic interventions in this contested field.
The book shares common ground with publications by Adriana de Souza e Silva and Jordan Frith (2012), Jason Farman (2012), and Chris Berry, Janet Harbord, and Rachel Moore (2013), who also explore this intersection of urban public space and media space. However, McQuire has less of a specific focus on mobile media and draws on different theoretical [End Page 129] tools. An important driver in the text is the concept of geomedia, which is developed as a less- or nonbinary way to think about relations between media and face-to-face communication. As McQuire puts it, “Media literally surrounds us in urban life, and this state of immersion reconfigures relations between site, boundary and agency across all scales” (15). In this context, he argues, media is not just a record but contributes to the dynamic elaboration of an event even as it unfolds (56). Here Geomedia appears to align with the work of Federica Timeto and Richard Coyne, who have also analyzed art and design interventions to question agency and relations within informational, spatial, and social environments. Unfortunately, within the book’s confines, this relational and performative conception of media and space is not given much time to develop. That said, the concept does helpfully describe four contemporary media trajectories: ubiquity, positionality, real-time feedback, and convergence. In pulling these strands together, a thought-provoking analysis of how power operates through new ways to communicate in the contemporary city is made possible.
What cannot be debated is that the “condition” that Geomedia describes entails some enmeshed and profoundly contradictory outcomes. For McQuire, Geomedia is heavily implicated in “hyper-industrialization” and instrumental smart city agendas shaping our public spaces. However, at the same time, he argues, “networked public space is today a laboratory for incubating and practising . . . new forms of communication, collaboration and cooperative action” (16). Although McQuire warns against posing the future of urban public space as a choice between two easily separable directions, this dichotomy between creeping commercialization and emergent forms of participation and collaboration forms the basis of the three case studies that the book hinges on. A chapter called “Googling the City” continues McQuire’s interest in the imaging of urban space and how this shapes our understanding of the city. In this section the text moves from a discussion of the work of Dziga Vertov and Charles Marville to a critical account of Google Street View and the implications of “data-driven urbanism.” The description of the Street View database as an “operational archive,” that is, both a source of information and a way to collect data about users, is insightful and grounds wider debates about the smart city in a concrete example.
In the next two chapters, contemporary digital art in public space is the...